Driving By Numbers: Canada’s 10 best-selling vehicles in 2020

Driving By Numbers: Canada’s 10 best-selling vehicles in 2020
During a year of constant turmoil, Canada’s automotive sales leaderboard remained all but fixed. The country’s top eight best-selling vehicles in calendar-year 2019 returned as the top eight in 2020, with the top three returning to their exact positions.

The most popular truck held onto its number-one position for a 55th consecutive year; the leading car claimed its top spot for a 23rd consecutive year; and Canada’s favourite SUV stayed up for a fifth consecutive year. Still, to suggest that the Canadian auto industry didn’t change in 2020 would be a terribly misguided conclusion.

Compared with 2019, the Canadian market lost out on nearly 400,000 sales, including a decline of more than 250,000 units in the second quarter alone. After a half-decade in which auto sales averaged a hair fewer than 2 million units, 2020 ended with only 1.55 million sales, marking an eleven-year low. The 20-per-cent year-over-year decrease was the second-worst of all time. Passenger car market share, in freefall for much of the last decade, plunged to new lows of just 21 per cent.

To put that in perspective, the last time Canada’s overall new-vehicle market was this ill, it was during the economic collapse of 2009. That’s when 1.46 million vehicles were sold, and passenger-car volume was actually 137 per cent stronger than in 2020.

However, many of the automotive industry’s weaknesses aren’t nearly so evident on this list of 2020’s ten best-selling vehicles. These leaders actually grew their share of the overall market to 35 per cent in 2020, more than 2 percentage points more than in 2019. That’s right: The most dominant vehicles on the market are more dominant now than they were in 2019. Indeed, the nation’s top sellers of today exert greater command of the market than they did in 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015— you get the idea.

The bestsellers aren’t merely Canada’s highest-volume vehicles; they’re steadily becoming better at being best.

There’s plenty of bad news at Nissan, a brand that suffered a drastic one-third drop in Canadian sales in 2020 even as the market slid by “just” one-fifth. The Rogue, Nissan’s Canadian top seller since 2012, was a big part of that bad news, or at least it was until the fourth quarter.

An all-new, third-generation, long-awaited, much-needed new Rogue landed at dealers at the end of the year, and volume returned to normal levels. 7,588 Rogues were sold in the fourth quarter, a modest 1-per-cent year-over-year dip after Rogue sales had fallen 38 per cent in the prior nine months.

Lone among Canada’s favourite vehicles is the . It’s not a new story — auto sales plummeted in 2020. Kona sales didn’t just avoid the plunge; they were actually higher in 2020 than in 2019.

With Elantra sales sliding 44 per cent (a startling 17,463-unit decrease) to only 22,000 units, and Tucson volume falling 22 per cent to 23,578 units, the Kona is now Hyundai’s top dog. It’s also Canada’s best-selling subcompact crossover. In 2019, the Kona was Canada’s 15th-ranked vehicle.

To be fair to the Corolla, 2020 could have been worse. This model’s share of Canada’s overall car market, which slid 37 per cent, actually increased even as Corolla volume dropped by more than 14,000 units. — it outsells the third- and fourth-ranked Toyotas combined. But even without a pandemic inflicting harm across the market, the Corolla would still be forced to fight for a bigger slice of a shrinking pie, because car sales overall are drying up.

Bittersweet doesn’t begin to describe it. The Honda Civic earned the title of Canada’s best-selling car for its 23rd consecutive year in 2020, but that victory came on the back of a tenth-gen Civic that suffered a harsh 29-per-cent sales decrease. For perspective, consider 2008, the Civic’s best year, when 72,463 compact Hondas were sold. The Civic ranked fourth overall in 2019, ranked third as recently as 2018, and was Canada’s number-one vehicle for the last time in 2008.

Consistently finishing as Canada’s second-best-selling SUV/crossover, the Honda CR-V became the top-selling Honda Canada model for the first time in 2020. But unfortunately for the automaker, it was the degree to which Civic sales fell off a cliff that enabled the CR-V to move into the top spot.

The CR-V also grabbed the sixth spot overall in the Canadian market, but finished more than 13,000 sales behind its top competitor. Incidentally, Honda doesn’t offer a hybrid CR-V in Canada, but that same top competitor earned a healthy portion of its victory margin (4,275 units) with a hybrid model of its own.

Narrowly pipped by its slightly-better-selling Chevrolet Silverado twin, the GMC Sierra’s marginal year-over-year decrease speaks to the health of Canada’s full-size pickup truck sector in 2020. Full-size trucks produced 18.7 per cent of Canada’s auto sales in 2019, and 21.1 per cent in 2020. The Sierra and Silverado combined to grow their share of that truck market by three percentage points to 32 per cent in 2020.

First, consider two trucks that both produced around 52,000 sales in 2020, only slightly fewer than during 2019’s more conventional economic circumstances. Second, General Motors Canada sold 104,259 full-size pickups in 2020, easily enough for a silver-medal placement. The duo accounts for just under half of GM’s Canadian volume.

For a fifth consecutive year, the Toyota RAV4 is Canada’s best-selling utility vehicle. The 57,972-unit total ranks an all-time second on the RAV4’s individual leaderboard, and only 2019 was better. Seven per cent of the RAV4s sold in Canada are hybrids .

It’s worth momentarily ignoring the RAV4’s annual 11-per-cent decrease to understand how this top-seller bounced back in the second half of the year. From July through December, RAV4 volume was actually 12 per cent stronger than during 2019’s second half.

FCA’s Ram truck lineup has played second fiddle to Canada’s long-time top-seller for a full decade. During that time, the Ram has greatly increased its volume, producing 30 per cent more sales in 2020 than in 2011.

But the number-one position is nevertheless a moon shot, given the all-conquering nature of Canada’s top-selling vehicle. The Ram would not do well to rest on its second-place laurels, but there is a level of safe profitability, given that Ram now owns one-quarter of a segment that produces more than one-fifth of the entire industry’s volume.

Fifty-five years as Canada’s top-selling truck line, and 12 years as Canada’s top-selling vehicle line — that’s not a bad result for a vehicle that ended the year running low on its inventory of an outgoing generation.

, and the upcoming Super Duty models, bear the weight of huge Blue Oval expectations. Trucks aren’t everything at Ford, but they’re an outsized component in the company’s ledger. In 2020, the F-Series accounted for 55 per cent of all Fords sold in Canada, 54 per cent of Ford Motor Company’s sales, 39 per cent of full-size pickups, and 8 per cent of the entire new-vehicle fleet.
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